Web Tools Expand Access to Psychosocial Care for Men With Prostate and Other Cancers

July 31, 2015
Lauren M. Green

Two web-based interventions that help men with prostate cancer deal with sexual dysfunction and other common side effects of treatment are demonstrating how tech tools can be successfully deployed to address the psychosocial needs of patients, their caregivers, and survivors.

Addie Wootten, MD

Two web-based interventions that help men with prostate cancer deal with sexual dysfunction and other common side effects of treatment are demonstrating how tech tools can be successfully deployed to address the psychosocial needs of patients, their caregivers, and survivors.

These online patient engagement tools were showcased at the 2015 World Congress on Psycho-Oncology by their developers in the United States and Australia.

The first intervention, known as hardtimes: Cancer and Men’s Sexual Health, was introduced by Leslie R. Schover, PhD, a professor at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center. She reported that overall in the United States, more than 3.5 million male cancer survivors have long-term, severe sexual dysfunction, yet fewer than 20% seek professional help.

The hardtimes website builds on three prior research studies published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer that examined the benefits of providing practical information online and through phone coaching for users seeking advice on such topics as:

  • Coping with incontinence or ostomy
  • How to choose a treatment for erectile dysfunction
  • How to find expert medical or psychological help
  • Keeping relationships healthy
  • Sexual communication
  • Dating

Drawing upon patient and survivor interviews, the program also scripted two case studies: one is a series of stories about a young man with testicular cancer, and another focuses on an African American man with prostate cancer and his spouse trying to get back to a normal sex life.

As part of her research, Schover and colleagues asked users to rate the website, with users generally finding the information not too overwhelming and that it helped with their partner relationships.

Schover’s research team is currently recruiting participants for a clinical trial evaluating the website in more depth. Although the trial had been open only to men over age 18 who have been diagnosed with cancer and been a patient at either UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston or Cooper MD Anderson Cancer Center in Camden, New Jersey, Schover said that she recently received permission from her institutional review board to recruit nationally.

Trial participants will fill out a baseline questionnaire and have the option to sign up for phone coaching. Schover hopes the trial will illuminate “how easy it will be to recruit for this trial, how many men will request phone coaching,” and whether the new beta-tested version of the program will be “stickier, which is web language for using the website longer and coming back to it,” Schover explained.

Interested individuals can visit http://bit.ly/1OEYpal to learn more about hardtimes and how to enroll in the trial.

Another web-based invention specifically aimed at men with prostate cancer and their caregivers is PROSTMATE (https://prostmate.org.au). Dr. Addie Wootten, director of clinical and allied health research for the Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre, explained that the site is fully launched, open to anyone, and thus is being studied in an “active research” program.

Wootten said that the need for such a resource is great with 74% of men with prostate cancer reporting unmet needs related to their care. Additionally, rural access to face-to-face consultations is especially challenging in her home country where many people live in remote areas. She said the portal is designed to improve the health and well-being of everyone affected by prostate cancer, including family members—offering a central place for individually tailored information and an access point to prostate cancer nurses and psychologists through its telehealth feature.

Feedback on the site has been overwhelmingly positive, said Wootten, adding that social media proved very effective in spreading the word. Since the site’s launch in November 2013, more than 1500 members have joined the program, 35% of whom live in rural locations. One in 4 men using PROSTMATE is aged >70 years, which Wootten said highlights the fact that technology is not a barrier for this population.

Another advantage of the online environment, Wootten pointed out, is that it offers access to information and support in a nonthreatening way, thus avoiding the stigma which some men may feel about seeking out emotional support.

She emphasized the multidisciplinary nature of the program, noting that she works with all specialties, including nursing, medical and radiation oncologists, and physical therapists:

“It really is a program that aims to comprehensively support men with prostate cancer and their families.”